This post is mostly relevant for those looking to put together a load out of their own rather than trying to build an impression of a real world unit (although some points in the first section are still pretty relevant). Where I’m recommending things, that is just my opinion after having tried to build load outs over 10+ years of airsofting, but it’s definitely not saying ‘you must do this’.
If you’ve decided to create your own load out then you’ve automatically given yourself a whole lot more freedom than if you are trying to recreate someone else’s load out. So the first thing you need to decide is what kind of player you are. Do you prefer to roll with hicaps (and therefore have limited ammo to 900 rounds as a rifleman (1800 for support guns) at our site) or are you a low/mid cap kind of person as that will give you an idea of how many mags you’ll need to carry.
Then you need to figure out what kind of player you are. Do you like to scout forward of the main team and are likely to go the long way round through awkward terrain? Are you the kind of person that prefers to roll in a fire team? Or are you a support gunner or sniper? Again, this will determine what style of load out is going to work for you and how to set it up.
Two other factors also come into play as well. The typical weather where you play and your level of fitness. The weather has to always be a consideration – a full plate carrier and belt load might look cool but in the middle of summer you might struggle with the heat and end up having to slow down. Your fitness also plays into this factor, if your fairly fit you can probably sustain your level of play in the heat in full gear, where as someone who is less fit may start to struggle to keep pace. Your fitness also plays apart in what load out might be suitable for your role, and what role you decide to take up – someone scouting in a heavier load out will need to be fitter to move as quickly as someone running a lighter one.
Picking your kit
So you’ve had a bit of a thought about what you want to ‘be’ in airsoft and how you prefer to play, time to select some gear and here I will go through on a gear type by type basis. You can of course combine them to suit your style and try to maximise the gains.
This type of load out solely uses the belt and drop leg/hip platforms for your load out.
- Generally a belt load out will be the lightest option so if you prefer to fight light then this is probably going to be for you.
- Highly suitable for scout/recon or sniper based load out because they generally won’t impede movement and can be blended into a ghillie or the environment easily.
- On hot days a belt load out will the coolest option on the day.
- Just a belt load out should be one of the cheaper load outs you can build (but as with anything you could drop a small fortune on any of these types of load outs if you felt so inclined).
- You will definitely feel your hits rather than have to listen for BB strikes on gear.
- If only using a MOLLE belt rig you only have so much space around your waist and the belt will only have so many rows of MOLLE. Now you can add extra space through leg rigs but they can either be great or a total pain depending on who you are. You can of course always build outward as many pouches come with MOLLE on the front but then you start to defeat the point of a belt load out by making it very wide and heavy.
- Belt load outs don’t afford you much protection from hits. You might find yourself with a few more welts than if you were wearing a chest rig/plate carrier (unless you couple the belt kit from something like a PACA but then you might find the load out getting hotter during the summer).
Battle belts make for very good platforms for short games or for those running hi caps because you won’t be carrying as many mags (using an M4 you might only need two mags (if both are 450 rounds) or there if they’re 300 rounders). Not to say you can’t use a belt rig when running midcaps by any means but you will start adding bulk very quickly. They also make great platforms for snipers/scouts as you keep junk away from your chest so getting prone will be much easier and is easier to disguise under a ghillie. I personally wouldn’t recommend just a belt kit for longer games, as carrying enough water/ammo/other stuff can become awkward.
What it says on the tin. Either a MOLLE panel or pre configured rig which is designed to sit on the wears chest. Generally won’t have anything on the back but many will come with a small MOLLE panel to attach a hydro pouch or similar too.
- With the load bearing up on your chest, it’ll free your legs if you don’t like gear interfering with leg movement etc (especially when compared to battle belt + leg rigs)
- Affords you some protection from bb strikes although you will need to learn what a BB strike on your gear sounds like.
- Can be made very lightweight and low profile.
- Still fairly breathable in hot weather although less so than a battle belt.
- Should be a lower chance of losing kit, as a battle belt might get snagged and items pulled out where as a chest rig generally shouldn’t (although good pouches will help on the battle belt)
- If using a MOLLE platform rather than a pre-configured one you should have more real estate in terms of number of rows of MOLLE so pouches should feel sturdier as some pouches are designed for three rows and some belts may thin down to two.
- Possibly better storage for maps/pens/keys as many chest rigs can either take admin pouches or have built in ones which beats trouser pockets.
- Having moved the weight to your chest, you may find with too much weight you get back ache because of the weight distribution, so be careful not to over load the rig.
- Going prone can be awkward, and changing mags whilst prone even more so if you haven’t combined chest rig with a basic belt.
- Reloading might be slower than belts as getting mags from chest pouches is slower.
- Pouches under your arms on the side of the rig can become a nuisance for slings/drawing pistols and generally too.
Chest rigs can be equally at home in scout, rifleman in a fire team or support gunner roles. I wouldn’t recommend them for sniping due to how they interfere with going prone. They provide a nice balance between breath-ability and protection from BB strikes and if you combine a chest rig with a MOLLE belt you can definitely get some good benefits without all the downsides. Be careful if you’re buying a pre-configured chest rig though, as you will have to live with where the gear maker has decided is the best place for your kit. You also need to make sure the chest rig is adjusted properly, as a sagging chest rig will cause you all kinds of issues – when running it’ll likely bounce around and depending on how much weight you’ve got on it either throw you off balance or try to smack you in the face, and also trying to draw mags direct from a loose chest rig will be more difficult as the chest rig may try to come with the mag.
Usually with plenty of MOLLE on both the front and back panels, and depending on model, on the cummerbund around the sides, plate carriers are the kinds of pouch attachment real estate and if you can carry the weight you could probably attach the kitchen sink to one (and you probably know players have already have done).
- You can equip a plate carrier with pouches to hold gear to over come near enough any situation. Plenty of real estate on the front, back and usually the sides you have a lot of freedom for pouch placement and if you need to carry a large amount of mags, you can make it hold a large number (you could probably get 20 mags if you really went for it)
- High level of protection from BB strikes.
- Good weight distribution. If you set up the plate carrier correctly when needing to carry a lot (say a full load of mags, water and other bits) you should be able to carry the kit quite comfortably for a decent amount of time – unlike a chest rig you shouldn’t find yourself with back pains (as long as you keep it balanced)
- Plate carriers are the least breathable option of all three options presented here. Even if you get something like a JPC which has a reduced cummerbund, it will still get warm wearing one of these during a summers day.
- Bulky. Regardless of what you do a plate carrier will start off bulkier than either of the other two (especially if you have put in fake plates to give it a better shape) so you are much more likely to have a more pronounced profile than when you use the others.
- Because a plate carrier affords you the most protection from BB strikes in terms of not getting welts, you need to make sure you know what a BB strike sounds like on your gear otherwise you’ll be in trouble of not calling all your hits (even though it is entirely innocent).
- Feeling the need to fill all of those MOLLE loops. Only a downside if you can’t control yourself but sometimes people feel that because there is space left on their plate carrier to put a pouch, they need to put one there. Don’t. It’ll be useless weight and only serve to get in the way.
Plate carriers are definitely more at home with rifleman in a fire team or a support gunner more than for a scout/sniper role. They can be used for scout roles but if you load it up with kit and still expect to be bounding around the site, I suggest you hit the treadmill because you will need to be fit to do it. Whilst you can set up a plate carrier so that it doesn’t interfere whilst prone by only having the pouches on your side, you might as well use a battle belt in this situation as you’re carrying excess weight for that empty front panel. A plate carrier is probably the most versatile platform of the three because of the amount of MOLLE available should you so require it, and that it is much more suited to carrying larger loads, but you can also strip it all back and run a few mag pouches and a hydro pouch as well.
As mentioned earlier in the post, you can obviously combine the methods – belt & plate carrier and belt & chest rig. You could also go the whole hog with all three if the plate carrier was something like a 6094 slick, with a chest rig over the top and a belt set up. As I’ve mentioned in the AI500 load out post: https://manxpewpew.com/2014/05/30/born-of-necessity-ai500-green-team/ I prefer to combine a belt load with either a chest rig or a plate carrier. This allows me to keep each one fairly low profile rather than having to use double stacked mag pouches to hold the number of mags I require and causing one or the other to become bulkier than needs be. By having a couple of mags on a belt I can reload faster and also easier when prone, but have the capacity to hold more mags in the chest rig/plate carrier to feed the belt and also carry a decent amount of water in a pack rather than being restricted just to a water bottle/canteen on a belt. It also gives me the scope to scale up or down depending on what I’m doing rather than being stuck with a certain capacity.
After all this, there is no reason you can’t make any of these options work for any role or situation you choose, but some are better suited than others. A battle belt will be less impeding to a sniper or scout but you can do either role whilst carrying the kitchen sink, but prepare to work hard for it. You can also make a battle belt work for a longer milsim type game, but make sure you get a good set of harness/suspenders because if you need to load your belt up with plenty of double stacked mag pouches it will start to slip under the weight.